I think this is one of the best pilot shows I’ve ever seen, but I should probably qualify that “best.” Yes, it’s very funny, but it also sets up the show so well that you immediately get what it’s about. When you go back and watch the pilot again after watching through the show, it strikes you just how well they understood the show from the very beginning. Did they know at this point that Khandi Alexander would show up as Lem’s mom in season two when they talk about her in this episode? Probably not. But the characters and the environment are set from the get go, and I think that saved them a lot of time and let them focus on the writing.
This episode starts off with a Veridian Dynamics commercial, one of my favorite recurring bits in the show. It loses a little something without the images, but here’s a transcription of this episode’s commercial:
Veridian Dynamics. Every day something we make makes your life better. Power: we make that. Technology: we make that. Cows: well, no, we don’t make cows. Although we have made a sheep. And medicines. And airplane engines. And whatever this is, and all sorts of things. Veridian Dynamics. Every day something we make makes your life better. Usually. Veridian Dynamics. Life. Better.
I love the idea that the company is so big they feel like they should probably do some image management via commercials, but then they use those opportunities to brag about their accomplishments, insult the viewers, or outright threaten anyone who happens to cross their path. Veridian Dynamics is all corporate id.
We’re first introduced to Ted (Jay Harrington) who tells us a little about the company, and we find out he’s been working there for three years. He’s now the head of a research and development department, and we get our first taste of what we’re in for when his boss, Veronica (the generally delightful Portia de Rossi, who should always be in a sitcom), pops into his office to tell him what “they” would like to see researched. ”They” is The Company, and “they” get mentioned a lot, often in such a way that you get the feeling the “they” is an “it,” and that that “it” probably has tentacles and 42 eyes and occupies a whole floor at the top of the building and eats interns.
First project is to weaponize pumpkins, and it serves as a way to introduce another of the show’s recurring bits: the meeting room. Getting these characters around a table to talk to and at each other is funny enough that I’d probably watch a show just about that. Ted has asked Dr. Bhamba (though it’s shown as “Bamba” in the credits) to get ideas on how to do this from nature, because “nature is a fantastic killer of things.”
From there it’s out to the hallway where Veronica asks Ted what they can do with this fabric they’ve invented, which serves as a way to introduce Lem (Malcolm Barrett) and Phil (Jonathan Slavin, who you might remember from an episode of Friends but more so from Andy Richter Controls the Universe, another wonderful sitcom that didn’t get enough time). I am going to confess something to you: even though I have seen both seasons of this show multiple times, up until this week I would not have been able to tell you which one was Phil and which one was Lem. I know that makes no sense, but I just couldn’t! I think it speaks to how great a team they make. I now have a way to remember them, and I will share that with you in a little while.
Phil and Lem are the scientists tasked with making Ted’s ideas work, and they generally have some measure of success. We find out that they’ve been working together for ten years at this point, and the actors do a fantastic job of portraying that.
Once they’ve come up with the idea, we meet Linda (full name: Linda Katherine Zwordling, played by Andrea Anders, who none of you will remember from Joey, but that’s how I remember her). As will eventually be mentioned in the show, Linda serves as a sort of moral center for the show/company. She’s the only one who ever seems to be horrified by some the the company’s ideas, and she’d much rather be working on her children’s book ideas (“There’s a zebra and a toaster who doesn’t want to make toast anymore”), but needs the money working at Veridian supplies. She’s currently horrified that the company wants to make itchy office chairs out of the fabric they’ve made. Sure, it helps workers focus more but it also drives them insane. To Veridian this doesn’t seem like a bad trade-off, but to Linda (and most of us viewers, it is assumed) it sure does. To somehow compensate for the weird injustices she sees the company committing on its workers, Linda steals coffee creamer from the break area.
And that’s all in the first third of the episode! Now that we’ve got our main characters established, we move on to the main point. As Veronica puts it, “We wanna freeze Phil.” Why not Lem? ”Freeze the black guy? They’re not stupid.” And this is how I now will remember which scientist is which: not because she mentions who they won’t freeze, but because “Phil” and “freeze” both begin the same way, phonetically. You find your way to remember things, I’ll find mine.
Now we meet Rose (Isabella Acres), Ted’s daughter. She serves as another moral center to the show and is way less jaded than Linda is. Her mom went off to “save the world,” which Ted tells us hasn’t been that great for the world, but Ted might not be the most reliable narrator on the topic of his ex-wife. Regardless, Rose tells Ted that “it’s wrong to freeze someone who comes to your daughter’s birthday.” She’s not incorrect.
But Veridian wants to do it anyway, and Phil eventually decides to let them. The draw of being a pioneer in the field of being frozen is too big to resist. Phil’s wife is okay with it, too, and we also find out Lem is not married, but he doesn’t like the idea of Phil being frozen for a year. “I’ll just stand perfectly still so I don’t accidentally go on living my life without you,” Lem says, a hint that he cares about Phil that Phil doesn’t pick up on.
So they freeze Phil, getting past the -20 degree point at which his eyeballs might have burst without problem, a point that seems to disappoint Dr. Bhamba (“I’ve never seen a man explode from the inside,” he says. “”A rabbit, an eel, a goat, a monkey, and a reindeer, but that’s all.”) During the procedure we see Ted and Linda hold hands, setting up a “will they or won’t they” that carries on throughout the series, but never in an annoying way. Turns out, though, that Ted has already used up the one office affair he’s allowed (that employee handbook must be a real page turner), so he’s not going to be able to pursue anything with Linda. Furthermore, we find out that he used his one office affair up on Veronica, so there’s another twist.
Phil accidentally gets thawed after only being frozen for three days, and he’s mostly okay except for the face-making and the screaming. I like to imagine that in his frozen state he got an actual look at The Company up on the top floor and this is the result, but that’s not canon so don’t latch on to that. Phil’s new habits are disrupting the workplace, so “they” want him fired, but Ted decides to stand up to them and not fire Phil, something Veronica warns will surely come back to haunt him.
Ideas/Inventions mentioned in this episode:
- Metal as hard as steel but can bounce like rubber and is edible
- A mouse that can withstand temperatures of up to 195 degrees (computer mouse)
- Weaponized pumpkins
- Strong, dark (and itchy) fabric – used in office chairs – “The Focus Master”
- “We wanna freeze Phil”
- Dr. Bhamba
- Cindy, whose cubicle might be wonderful, but might be horrifying, it’s hard to tell
Next week: S01E02 – “Heroes”
Written by: Mark